FCC Commissioner, Deborah Taylor Tate gave an interesting speech at the 46th Annual New York State Broadcasters Association Conference in Lake George the other day. She was sandwiched between David Rehr, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters and Governor Eliot Spitzer, so her remarks were shorter than planned. She has posted the complete text of her remarks on her website www.fcc.gov/commissioners/tate/.
After a very professional disclaimer informing the audience that the Commissioner was espousing mainly her personal views (as opposed to the FCC’s) she addressed, in her words, “the biggest issue” she faces: excessive sex and violence on television. According to Commissioner Tate, more people ask her about this issue than any other.
OK. Let’s suppose that this is the foremost thing on the minds of American television viewers. What are the statistics? According to the Commissioner, a recent Kaiser Foundation study found that 66 percent of parents favor government regulation of television content. That being said, the same study says that only 28 percent of these parents use the current television rating system to help them make viewing decisions. Why? Because only 40 percent of parents believe that the ratings are accurate. And, as it turns out, they’re right. Another recent study referenced by the Commissioner showed that over two-thirds of television shows were inaccurately rated.
Everyone in the room knew what was coming next … Commissioner Tate asked, as nicely as possible, for the broadcasters in the room to do what they could to clean up their act. Although she was careful to couch her request in a very personal, parental way — the only way you could interpret her words were as an admonition. Clearly, if the broadcast television industry does not voluntarily bring their products into line with the current, politically correct aesthetic sensibility, the government will do what it has to to keep the politicians in office.
This is your government at work, so if you want the artistic content of your broadcast television viewing regulated, sit home and do nothing. However, if the very concept of content regulation makes your blood boil, it’s time for you to personally take action. Actually, even if you think content regulation is a good idea, you should get involved. Write to the leadership. You can find all of the email addresses you need at www.televisiondisrupted.com/gov.
For the record, I am not opposed to ratings or product labeling. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect everyone to know what every show is going to be about before they view it. And, it is unreasonable to expect every parent to view every show before their children are allowed to view them. And, personally, I do think that there is too much violence on television. I left the other word out on purpose. In my worldview I find it strange that it is OK to show someone getting cut in half by machine-gun fire, but not OK to show realistic intimate moments between consenting partners. However, that’s in my worldview, which is not necessarily your world view or anyone else’s. And, that’s the point. The government has no business being involved in the decision to watch or not to watch. That is strictly the job of parents in the privacy of their own homes.
When you consider what can be found on the Internet, cable and satellite television and from alternative distribution systems, broadcast television seems almost parochial by comparison. Does it really need to be more regulated? You decide. Let the FCC know how you feel.
While you are at it, consider the following. Almost every broadcast television station is working on their online video strategy. Many already put a huge amount of video content online and most of my clients are working hard to be competitive in an increasingly online world. Will this government-imposed content regulation have any impact on content distributed over the Internet? Asking a question like this in 2007 seems silly. The Internet is the wild, wild west and it is all but regulated. Type any subject into a search engine and you are guaranteed to find some content that someone will deem inappropriate.
So, if we let the FCC regulate broadcast television content, how long will it be until they impose their will on other distribution systems? I hope you feel strongly about this issue and I hope you take this opportunity to contact your elected officials and the FCC and let them know how you feel. It’s the American way!